Drop in gigs squeezes middle-class thesps

This article was corrected on June. 2, 2002.

HOLLYWOOD — Continuing the ongoing squeeze on middle-class actors, the number of feature and TV jobs for Screen Actors Guild members plunged 9.3% last year to 48,167.

The decline is due to a combination of factors, according to SAG spokeswoman Ilyanne Kichaven — the impact from runaway production, the growth of reality programs that do not employ SAG members and the drop in second-half production that followed the WGA and SAG negotiations.

The figures, released Monday as part of SAG’s Casting Data Report, come in the face of the guild’s reporting last month a 3.2% overall gain in earnings for last year to $1.64 billion, including a 7.2% hike in feature earnings to $449.5 million and a 1.7% decline in TV earnings to $614.7 million. The casting data and the earnings figures show that, on the average, fewer actors are being paid slightly more per job.

Gilbert disappointed

“It is disappointing to see the total number of roles for SAG members declining,” said guild prexy Melissa Gilbert. “SAG is actively seeking remedies to bring more opportunities to our members.”

Kichaven said the decline in the number of jobs was traceable particularly to the ongoing surge in productions shot overseas that tend to use only a few SAG members in principal roles. “If the same production were shot in the United States, we believe there would be a far higher number of SAG members cast in supporting roles,” she added.

The decline in mid-level jobs has been an ongoing lament for SAG and formed the centerpiece of its film-TV negotiations last year with studios and nets. The level of jobs in 2001 represented a 15% decline from the high point of 56,715 jobs in 1998.

With an eye toward capturing a larger share of overseas jobs, SAG also launched a “Global Rule One” initiative on May 1 with beefed-up enforcement of its requirement that members work only on SAG contracts for projects filmed outside the United States and aimed for distribution in the U.S. market.

Black roles fall

The casting data — based on reports by SAG signatory-producers — also showed declines in employment for performers of color from 22.9% to 22.1% last year. African-American roles fell to 14.4% from 14.8%, Latino/Hispanics slid to 4.8% from 4.9% and Asian/Pacific Islanders dropped to 2.5% from 2.6%. Native Americans showed a marked increase with 0.37% of roles compared with 0.2% in 2000.

SAG noted the data examines only the number of the roles, not their quality, and pointed out that Latino/Hispanic and Asia/Pacific participation levels are considerably less than their respective 12% and 4% population levels in the U.S. “The guild also continually strives for creative casting choices and urges producers to accurately reflect the American scene,” Gilbert said.

The data also showed men received 62% of the roles cast in 2001, similar to the numbers in previous years. Actors under 40 were cast in 64% of all roles, breaking down to 59% of male roles and 71% of female roles.

Efforts ongoing

SAG said its efforts to boost work opportunities include holding cold-casting seminars, working with the ABC Casting Project, publishing directories for minority performers, hosting industry seminars and issuing reports.

SAG contracts do not include daytime TV, game or reality shows, or most nonprimetime programming.

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